The Approach of the Education Act 1996
The Act attempts a comprehensive coverage of all matters concerning education although the temptation is to think of its content as dealing with only with primary and secondary education. The EA1996 is nevertheless the locus of policies and direction on primary and secondary and the source of regulation of those two levels of education. The 1996 retains most of the provisions of the 1957 and the 1961 legislation that created the foundation of the NES, albeit with some important changes and modifications. The main aim of the earlier legislation was to consolidate the different structures of education that had evolved during the colonial administration of the country to create a single system of education using the National Language as the medium of instruction. The most serious challenge to the creation of a single system were claims for mother tongue education from the Chinese and Indian communities and the preservation of vernacular schools teaching in Mandarin and Tamil. As will be seen, the Malaysian Education System retains vernacular schools at the primary education level that use Tamil and Mandarin as the medium of instruction, thereby adding a diversity in education that is seldom found in other countries. That diversity is not found in official secondary schools but only in independent Chinese schools that operate outside the NES.
The EA1996 establishes a five-tiered (pre-school, primary education, secondary education, post-secondary education, higher education) NES that is described in detail below. The binding factors of the NES are full or partial government support, a common medium of instruction, except in the case of vernacular primary schools and a common prescribed curriculum.